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HemmingPlay

“Between us and heaven or hell is only life, which is the frailest thing in the world.”.

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Living

Cry


*Part of the “Saying Goodbye” collection to be published soon. 

Do you remember our babies’
crying through the night
with colic, red-faced, kicking,
little fists clenched, punching the air?
We took turns with
futile soothings,
new at this baby thing,
desperate to comfort, to
silence that infernal noise
so we could go to work
in a few hours and not
fall asleep in the elevator.

They didn’t seem to want
comfort, did they?
Continue reading “Cry”

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Secrets


When the sands
of our deeper selves
shift, slide, scald
at 3 a.m.,
when buried grief
slithers out again,
the night holds its
breath a moment,
exhales and the Eastern
sky brightens.
Safe again, we wake.

Strange things stir,
unknowns,
mazes, links, leaps
of magic and yearning,
primitive emotions,
undisguised by
convention, rise.
There is no passion so pure
as when it springs
uncensored,
from the loins of
an ancient earth, from the night.

Secrets lurk between
every second on the clock,
there, then gone, then back…
neither light nor shadow,
but mere potential.
Hiding in plain sight.
shifting with the sand,
teasing us to pull
them into the light,
poisoning us until
we do.

Shirt


Carl Sandburg, 1878-1967

I remember once I ran after you and tagged the fluttering
shirt of you in the wind.
Once many days ago I drank a glassful of something and
the picture of you shivered and slid on top of the stuff.
And again it was nobody else but you I heard in the
singing voice of a careless humming woman.
One night when I sat with chums telling stories at a
bonfire flickering red embers, in a language its own
talking to a spread of white stars:
It was you that slunk laughing
in the clumsy staggering shadows.
Broken answers of remembrance let me know you are
alive with a peering phantom face behind a doorway
somewhere in the city’s push and fury.
Or under a pack of moss and leaves waiting in silence
under a twist of oaken arms ready as ever to run<
away again when I tag the fluttering shirt of you.

What Gives You Peace of Mind?


For a little change of pace, I’m sharing an essay I wrote for “Storyworth”, a family history/memoir project brought to me by my two sons. When I run out of gas, or they run out of questions–or both– we’ll end up with a bound hard-copy book for each of us that will be, essentially, my memoir, driven by their questions, and done one week at a time. The following is this week’s essay. 

______________________________________________________

What Gives You Peace of Mind? you ask… 

Well… I have to take exception to the premise of this question. At least a little. I’m not against peace of mind in general, but just that I’m not sure that ought to be the goal. Or my goal, anyway.

And I think there’s a difference between being “happy” and having “peace of mind”. And there’s also a time element on both, and on unhappiness, too: nothing seems to be permanent, good or bad.

Lemme see if I can untangle that.

Continue reading “What Gives You Peace of Mind?”

I Want


I wanted to be Steve Jobs
I wanted to be Joni Mitchell
I wanted to be Leonard Cohen
I wanted to be Carl Sagan,
Bobby Kennedy.
I wanted to be that person, they’ll say,
“yeah, whatever happened to him?”
The way people do, about certain
Rare, shining talents, like Joni, or Steve,
Or Carl.
Mysteries that can’t be explained.

Continue reading “I Want”

If I Were A Beatle


1943-2001

If I were a Beatle

I’d be

the quiet one–

catalyst

bare-foot pilgrim

Continue reading “If I Were A Beatle”

A Fantasy of Permanent Youthfulness


I’m racing the inevitable,
my only weapon an
optimistic fantasy
of permanent youthfulness.

The 1970s are to blame.
My generation is to blame.
We started this crap,
pretending we could play
where, before,
only teenagers and children could.

In my head, I’m still about 32,
on a stone patio of
a casino in Saint Tropez, in sandals,
skimpy swimming trunks,
Continue reading “A Fantasy of Permanent Youthfulness”

Why Won’t They?


saint-michael-statue-back-PT-8567

“Why won’t the saints look at us?”

“Even saints need a break sometimes, Honey.”

“Is it that bad?”

“Yeah. It is. But try a long walk. They’re saints. They’ll be back.”

“I hope so. I’m not sure I would.”

“Me, neither. There’s always a first time, I suppose. Try not to think about that. ….

That path through the woods to the lake is your best shot. You’d better take your time.”

–From Aug. 2016, revised

Primitive


 

By Sharon Olds

Sharon Olds

 

I have heard about the civilized,
the marriages run on talk, elegant and
honest, rational. But you and I are
savages. You come in with a bag,
hold it out to me in silence.
I know Moo Shu Pork when I smell it
and understand the message: I have
pleased you greatly last night. We sit
quietly, side by side, to eat
the long pancakes dangling and spilling,
fragrant sauce dripping out,
and glance at each other askance, wordless,
the corners of our eyes clear as spear points
laid along the sill to show
a friend sits with a friend here.

A Song on the End of the World


CZESLAW MILOSZ

BY CZESLAW MILOSZ

TRANSLATED BY ANTHONY MILOSZ

On the day the world ends
A bee circles a clover,
A fisherman mends a glimmering net.
Happy porpoises jump in the sea,
By the rainspout young sparrows are playing
And the snake is gold-skinned as it should always be.

On the day the world ends
Women walk through the fields under their umbrellas,
A drunkard grows sleepy at the edge of a lawn,
Vegetable peddlers shout in the street
And a yellow-sailed boat comes nearer the island,
The voice of a violin lasts in the air
And leads into a starry night.
And those who expected lightning and thunder
Are disappointed.

And those who expected signs and archangels’ trumps
Do not believe it is happening now.
As long as the sun and the moon are above,
As long as the bumblebee visits a rose,
As long as rosy infants are born
No one believes it is happening now.

Only a white-haired old man, who would be a prophet
Yet is not a prophet, for he’s much too busy,
Repeats while he binds his tomatoes:
There will be no other end of the world,
There will be no other end of the world.

Warsaw, 1944

Gratefulness


Indian parable:

A famous writer was in his study. He picked up his pen and started writing :

1. Last year, I had a surgery and my gall bladder was removed. I had to stay stuck to the bed due to this surgery for a long time.

2. The same year I reached the age of 60 years and had to give up my favourite job. I had spent 30 years of my life in this publishing company.

3. The same year I experienced the sorrow of the death of my father.

4. And in the same year my son failed in his medical exam because he had a car accident. He had to stay in bed at hospital with the cast on for several days. The destruction of car was another loss.

At the end he wrote: Alas! It was such a bad year !!

When the writer’s wife entered the room, she found her husband looking sad & lost in his thoughts. From behind his back she read what was written on the paper. She left the room silently and came back with another paper and placed it on side of her husband’s writing.

When the writer saw this paper, he found his name written on it with the following lines :

1. Last year I finally got rid of my gall bladder due to which I had spent years in pain….

2. I turned 60 with sound health and retired from my job. Now I can utilise my time to write something better with more focus and peace…..

3. The same year my father, at the age of 95, without depending on anyone or without any critical condition met his Creator….

4. The same year, God blessed my son with a new life. My car was destroyed but my son stayed alive without getting any disability.

At the end she wrote:

This year was an immense blessing of God and it passed well !!!

The writer was indeed happy and amazed at such beautiful and encouraging interpretation of the happenings in his life in that year !!!

Moral : It’s not happiness that makes us grateful but gratefulness that makes us happy.

Think positive…..
Be happy…
Stay Blessed….

Perspectives


We see what was under our noses

only when death’s diamond fingernail

scratches the window pane, asking….

Today?

Not today?

Ok, then. Not today.

But he’s ruined it;

nothing is the same.

We had an orchard when I was a kid,

Macintosh, Granny Smith, pear, peaches.

I hated mowing under the trees.

The fallen fruit was full of hornets,

and the air swarmed with bees.

The air was full of the sweet rottenness

and squadrons of hostile aliens.

We picked the good ones, and

Dad would hand one to me.

I was in my squeamish phase, sure

I’d bite into a worm.

He ate, though, showing me how, eyes closed.

I wish I’d seen this for the gift this was

and taken it more to heart.

I wish he was still around

so I could

apologize.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned since,

it is how to eat around the wormholes.

Most of the time .

 

Broken…


In the Mountain Stars
Light shines through
broken windows,
into broken hearts
once the bleeding stops.
Age awaits us
with the patience of
a sleeper agent.

I am thirsty always, in a world of wet
Eyes open, but in the dark
nothing comes.
I look for comforts I no longer find,
and yet, yet…
the skies between
mountains light a
lovely path.

Hemmingplay

Borrowed Dust*


This body’s nothing but
borrowed dust
Animated—somehow.

Flitting from who knows
what to who
knows where.

I like how we
guess about our
destination, though.
It shows optimism.
We’re nothing if not plucky.

My own guess
is that the truths
are greater than anything
we’ve dreamt
from fear and need.
I could be wrong.

But we’re here.
That’s all we know
for sure.
Until Nature washes us away.
Or not.
Wait with me,
be brave…
we’ll find out.

Singing Sands


And still the waves

slip ashore,

whisper their

conspiratorial secrets

into sloping sand.

The wind slides ashore

from dark seas,

from empty spaces,

haunted by silences,

Shockingly cold and clean

like the sharp hum of

a wet finger sliding on

the spotless rim of a

fine crystal glass.

I might… I might

drop dead at any moment.

Sooooo… I look at a

beautiful Siren

and sigh, suddenly young again.

This, and a kiss,

This is what I’ll miss.

25,000 days


I’ve managed to make it through almost 25,000 days

by accidentally avoiding fatal incidents.

The first 23,756 (or so) I was rushing from one to the next,

believing, without evidence, that my presence was required.

But lately, I’ve been wondering what all the hurry was for.

At my age, I’ve become convinced that time needs to be slowed down,

and that the cheapest way to do that is to pretend

the clocks and calendars are all wrong.

The alternative — that I’m largely irrelevant, or just a mild irritant — is

too unpleasant–to consider.

My dog’s strategy is to sleep over there, twitching, dreaming,

reliving the exciting chase of a squirrel this morning.

She seldom catches one in these dreams. Neither do I.

Packing For The Trip


dc855071-4f05-4358-b9ce-f09f08c73baa_04_5_caters_invisible_bodies_artwork_08

When the sun comes up tomorrow,
it still won’t care about our little passions,
but we’ll look up, hopeful as puppies, and think it does.

Whatever the size of our apartment or tent or mansion,
we fill the available closets like we’re packing
for a long, long trip and will need all that debris.

I’m just a big ol’ hypocrite, knowing I’ll exit as
naked as the day I arrived, but cling to
my comforts and sense of ownership anyway.

My boys will someday go through what’s left,
hold up broken reading glasses or
socks with no mates, raise an eyebrow:
“Why did that crazy old man keep this?”

“I don’t know,” I’ll say from the ceiling,
already starting to dissolve from the solid world,
“But I thought I might need them someday.”

 

Another Complaint About Marketers


I squinted through previews of blind old age,
a hop and skip from life in a cage–
So I put into port, my vacation on hold.

I miss aspects of the younger me.
That mixture of brass and anxiety.
One minute riding with Aldrin and Glenn,
The next falling into bland misery.

What shall I encourage?
The naive fancies of youth?
The cautions of age?
The search for the truth?
Do I have to decide?
Can’t I take the easy way out,
hop the freak train, savor the ride?

Just once?

Smiling eyes of absinthe green,
make me mush, a stuttering sixteen.
Not to complain; I like this just fine.
The heart never tires of love’s blush divine.

(I just read about someone doing yoga on a ferris wheel. 
Two good things don’t necessarily work well together.
But I’ll admit, she looks good in Spandex,
And sex does sell, as we know too well. .  

Still, this just proves that any good thing can be 
ruined by the venal machinations of marketers–
the modern source of most human misery
now that we’ve killed off all the wolves and smallpox.)

And right there we have it, our abnormality.
Instead of reveling in that sublime unsanity–
that carries its victims away happily,
the passions that make life worth living, in actuality–
someone, somewhere, somewhen, without fail,
gives into the low-rent impulse’s to ruin simple things like love and luck,
with the smarmy impulse to make a quick buck.

via Daily Prompt: Unmoored

 

The Cork’s Dilemma


I’m torn.
Spring is so fast, so eager.
Changes come before I’ve absorbed yesterday’s.
A minute ago, the maple was nearly bare,
thousands of tiny spinners fallen on my windshield
like sawdust under a table saw.
This morning, new leaves dance in the breeze,
awkward teenagers already, swaying to their own music,
turning the bright sunshine green.

Have I missed something important?
I wish the world had a rewind button, or at least a pause option.
But sadly, we drift along like a cork in a stream,
never knowing what’s down below, never staying anywhere.
Only able to see a blurred impression of the scene whizzing by.

So, yes, I’m torn between the ineffable beauty of now
and endless wonders around the each bend of the stream.
That makes any cork an unreliable partner.

I cannot slow the stream, but
I’ll pause on my own, breathe deeply, still my mind.
When I eat, I will really taste the food; savor the wine.
Miss no opportunity to be kind.
See the joy in another’s eyes.

I’ll watch the young leaves dance and try to
imagine the shape of the wind, feel the fingers of the invisible ocean.
And when I laugh, it will be from the soles of my feet,
and when I’m sad, I’ll not be afraid to plumb the depths.
And when I love, I will hold nothing back, even
When, as is inevitable, there is pain.

I intend to be fully alive, to observe more and better.
That’s all I can do.
That’s all any of us can do.
After all, we’ll be dead soon enough.

via Daily Prompt: Unmoored

Let Me Go


by Christina Georgina Rossetti

When I come to the end of the road
and the sun has set for me
I want no rites in a gloom filled room
Why cry for a soul set free?

Miss me a little, but not for long
and not with your head bowed low
Remember the love that once we shared
Miss me, but let me go.

For this is a journey we all must take
and each must go alone.
It’s all part of the master plan
a step on the road to home.

When you are lonely and sick at heart
go to the friends we know.
Laugh at all the things we used to do
Miss me, but let me go.

When I am dead my dearest
sing no sad songs for me
plant thou no roses at my head
nor shady cypress tree
be the green grass above me
with showers and dewdrops wet
and if thou wilt remember
and if thou wilt, forget.

I shall not see the shadows,
I shall not fear the rain;
I shall not hear the nightingale
sing on as if in pain;
and dreaming through the twilight
that doth not rise nor set,
haply I may remember,
and haply may forget.

Implacable Indifference


I love this one-eyed poet who talks about the
“Implacable indifference of time.” He was
old when he wrote that, and facing a decaying
body and painful surgery.
It made me think.

I was raised to believe in hope,
in the redeeming graces that would make
all suffering worthwhile in the sweet bye and bye;
to seek a moral purpose even in darkness and pain,
to value the hard-won badges and scars of a
life lived with eternity in mind.

Late in my sixth decade now, the path ahead
more and more clear,  I think it’s time I
did myself a favor and distinguished between
wishful thinking and hard truths.
It’s a choice; I still have
the power to choose.
I have my health, for the most part,
but my wife has had cancer 5 times and still
keeps her face to the sun. It won’t get easier for either of us,
and I have promises to keep, somehow.

I’ve learned this much; your mileage may vary:

No matter how bad the news is, someone has it worse.
It’s easy to be discouraged, hard to be hopeful.
Be hopeful, anyway. It’s a way of not giving in.
There’s nothing better than the feeling of a cold beer
hitting the back of your throat on a hot day.

Realize that behind anything you want,
there are multiple reasons.
The majority are selfish, or weird or downright bad.
Wait. Bullshit always has a big mouth.
Wait. Your hair’s not really on fire.
It’s just the hormones whipping you, mostly.
Most desires turn out to be hollow things with time.

Wait and look for whether
there’s something in there that helps someone,
does not hurt someone and
would make your children proud.
Do that one. Out of all the rest.
And do it with everything you’ve got.

Then give someone else the credit for it.

This is especially true of love. We are all capable of
much more of that, but get selfish and fearful of pain.
We must be careful and keep the above rules in mind.
Does it help someone ? Everyone needs it.
Does it hurt anyone? Can you stretch yourself to include more?
Can you give 110% to more than one?
Would it make your children proud?
(When/if you have them, if you don’t now.)
Do that. And another just like it, but with care.
Grow into it.
Tell yourself that, in the end,
You told yourself the truth, most of the time;
You did not harm anyone on purpose;
and that you tasted as much sweetness
along the way
as you could.

Ashes and Snowflakes


The challenge, it seems,
is to somehow arrange,
to slow-dance with Familiar,
but awaken with Strange.

To be like a welder
shooting showers of sparks,
birthing hot, fluid joinings,
behind a mask full of stars. Continue reading “Ashes and Snowflakes”

Time


Shameless plug: 

This is a hoot. I just got an email from the Austin International Poetry Foundation that another poem (the one below from last year) was accepted for the “Di-vêrsé-city Anthology” and they invited me to go to the festival in April to read it. (I probably won’t be able to go, unfortunately. Maybe someday.)

But you can still register and make it. Austin in April is nice.
More info: https://www.aipf.org/aipf/default.asp

 

steampunk-hourglass-passing-time-sand-hourglass-d8de33e363e9f38a

I tried skipping in and out of a
stream once
And learned I could not
Touch the same water twice.
Asleep for 50 years,
More or less, and, now awake,
I fear there is not enough time for the work.

We don’t have time to be clever,
Show me what I have missed.
We use the idea of time
To pretend everything
Doesn’t happen at once,
And judge it by our own puny lifespans.
Barely able to cry “I am here”
And we are gone,
Like fireworks shot to the stars
On a cloudy night.

The Best of Us


water drop in water

 

Sometimes you just don’t know what’s going to come out of that old man’s mouth…In a hospital room he probably wasn’t walking out of…late on a February Sunday afternoon. We waited, though. And then he just started, with no preamble.

“I just like them. I just like women. Well, some. I have preferences. Who doesn’t?

“And I just let them see the admiration and respect. And some, a few of them, like me back, like they’re surprised, you know. Grateful in a way… for the honesty, I guess, although that’s not in my mind, like a tactic. It wouldn’t be honest that way, would it? So, no games. They’re tired of the games and bullshit, too. I had to practice that, though.

But, if there’s not that mutual ‘liking’, no spontaneous shudder, you just back up a step, be polite and move on. Have a little dignity.

“And sometimes they show me some appreciation in tangible ways, too. They look after me for a while, making sure I’m appreciated, and that doesn’t mean sex at all. Just liking and wanting to do for. Boys, there’s no one who can take care of you like a grateful, honest woman. And it’s nice to be treated well.

“There’s some of the other kind of appreciation, of course, and if it happens it happens.

“It’s my favorite thing, but you have to let nature take its course or it’s not as good. That’s what you young guys don’t understand. Too big a hurry so that you miss the main show.

“The best thing is when you have the sudden shudders but also respect. And that means nobody’s a superior person, like a boss to the other. When you are equal in some ways and content to let the other’s talents shine when they need to. No false pride.

“That doesn’t mean everything’s smooth, either. You can be terribly lonely or angry sometimes, when things aren’t working and you know it. That’s when someone else can look good. But with luck, you don’t break the bond between you two who click.It’s so easy to.

“But two people like that? That’s sweet.”

He laughed and coughed a little.

“And however you express that between you–and even if it doesn’t go on forever–nobody gets hurt. Not at all. Just the opposite. It’s a permanent special thing. And some people only have the memory of it to live on, but at least they have that.”

Our father had a coughing fit and lay back in the hospital bed exhausted, but with a slight smile and a distant look at the hazy hill a couple of miles away. We looked at each other.

An electronic chime sounded in the hall. A recorded voice announced the end of visiting hours. We hated to leave, as tomorrow wasn’t a guarantee.

“You know what, though?” he said, turning back to us. “I just realized something. About that second kind of appreciation…

Here it came. We caught each other’s eyes. Raised an eyebrow like Spock.

“It just dawned on me that despite a number of opportunities, I only really found that exact thing with one person. I’m pretty sure I could have found more, but I didn’t see the point. I’m a lazy man, and that sounded like too much work. But in any case… I stopped at the first one. The one that clicked like that…

He suddenly realized the night was closing in. He wanted to see one more dawn with Mom. It showed.

“She’ll be back in a minute. No need to tell your mother what I said about her. OK? She’s stressed enough. And if I say something too nice now, the shock might kill her.

“We like to watch sunrises together.”

There was that thin smile again. A little sad around the corners. Tired from the chemo and the pain. He looked at us, waiting.

We nodded our old conspirator smiles.

We’d heard this routine before, making us promise not to tell mom something.

We would ignore this one, too.

He knows we will.

He’s counting on it.

 

 

#internationalwomensday

At the Dig


kmctdsd

Some poems make me an archaeologist.
I roll back the stone from the tomb of some
long-buried memory and analyze artifacts.
It seems more and more important to
look for what I can, to catalogue
it and make sure contexts are in order.

I can clearly see a soft brush
moving in my hand, delicately
clearing the dust from that time I was six or seven,
and we were at recess, in the monkey bars at
an old, old school building now
torn down 20 years ago.

The day was warm and bright,
glowing in that special benign October sun,
the girls squealing and running
just fast enough to get
caught before everyone got tired—
as the boys chased them around and around.
Learning the rules of the mating game.

The lemon-yellow maple and bright-red oak
leaves in the sloping park just off the playground
were down in wind-shaped drifts. Farm kids all,
we simply asked a teacher for the rake
which she got for us, and we
made piles, big crunchy soft piles,
and jumped in them while Mrs. Fish looked on,
her arms crossed, sharing the moment,
stretching recess a few minutes because she knew
moments like this would end soon enough
and we would grow up and be gone…
and of course she was right.

So What Comes Next?


Ernest Hemingway
Ernest Hemingway

For this, that now was coming, he had very little curiosity. For years it had obseessed him; but now it meant nothing in itself. It was strange how easy being tired enough made it.

Now he would never write the things he had saved to write until he knew enough to write them well. Well, he would not have to fail at trying to write them, either.”  

– Ernest Hemingway, “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”

I self-published a book of poetry recently.

(Technically, it’s the second book I have published, but the first was a children’s picture book designed for the iPad. I’m old-fashioned and have this prejudice that it isn’t really a book unless it is printed in ink on a page made of paper.)

Therefore, as far as I’m concerned, I published my first book.

It’s not important to anyone else, but it marks a milestone for me. There can never again be a first one, and I’m letting the feeling settle in slowly and warmly. You never forget your first one, they say.

An itch that I haven’t been able to scratch for more than 60 years has to leave me alone, now. I still feel I can get better, and there is still beauty and meaning to be explored. That is what keeps us young, after all. Always feeling there is more to learn, to do, to feel. Truly young, until we die of old age.

It has only been a couple of days, and a few copies have sold. I don’t have any expectations– oh, maybe to break even on the costs of marketing and buying author copies, perhaps. But that’s about it.

Practice. That was one reason. But for what?

Confidence. That was another. I needed to build my confidence. But again: for what?

I saw the Hemingway quote above, and all of a sudden realized what this book, and all the work over the last two and one-half years was about.

I hope I have not left it for too long. I could have another stroke and be unable to move or write, of course. That’s a thought I carry with me each day. It worries me, but I have had to learn how to move on, and into deeper places in me, in spite of that fear. I found out how to use it for motivation.

I don’t want to be caught short like Harry in “The Snows of Kilamanjaro.” But I also know that anything might happen. And I have to be ready for whatever comes. We all do, whether we like it or not.

(The story: Harry, a writer, and his wife, Helen, are stranded while on safari in Africa. A bearing burned out on their truck, and Harry is talking about the gangrene that has infected his leg when he did not apply iodine after he scratched it. As they wait for a rescue plane from Nairobi that he knows won’t arrive on time, Harry spends his time drinking and insulting Helen. Harry reviews his life, realizing that he wasted his talent through procrastination and luxury from a marriage to a wealthy woman that he doesn’t love.)

So I will press on, take care of myself as best I can. I want to sit under an apple tree in late summer for as many years as I can, and listen to them fall, wasting their sweetness. But I want to make sure I taste as many as I can.

I will keep writing, and write the things I’ve been putting off. “You pays your money and you takes your chances,” as some old friends used to say. There’s no point in waiting any longer. None of it is 2far–until it is.

Besides, I published a book! A little, self-published book of poetry. Just look at me.

Please call if the Pulitzer Committee tries to reach me. 🙂

Spring


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Put your ear to the air.

Tune your senses to the long rhythms…

The sun is daily higher,

It knocks harder on grave’s door:

Beneath in the icy ground,

Life warms from near death

Shudders and swells and pushes against

The things that would keep it cold:

Listen….

Tune your senses to the long rhythms,

Close your eyes and see.

Billions of trillions of millions of tiny,

urgent things stir, move,

Grow from nothing to everything.

The shoving and shifting and yearning

Makes a soundless roar we feel through our feet.

The Earth…. She stretches and yawns.

Time and Mountains


russians-climb-pyramids

The time was, we thought we had a handle on time,
but our time here is so short that there’s no
time to really understand what time is–
or even if we ever will.
There just isn’t enough of it for anything.

The pharaohs sat their fat asses
firmly on a people who could not
remember a time before this curious arrangement…
Before there were these arrogant
bastards who thought they knew best,
who thought the world worked best
as a pyramid with them at the top.

In the times of the pharaohs,
time had a different meaning…there
in the dull, slow heat of the desert
in between floods and plagues and
the brief, beautiful springtime.

After a while, the parasites tricked the people,
who were bored and out of work
and likely to cause trouble,
into piling millions of
blocks of rocks in magnificent piles as if
to say to the gods, “See, we can
build mountains, too!”
It also proved the Pharaoh
had the right to be in charge
since no one wanted to go to the trouble
of tearing all those rocks down.

But where are the pharaohs now?
Like real mountains, their piles of rocks will
end up as grains of sand,
blowing across the expanse of eternity
until they drift up against the
base of some other fool’s monument.

I once had an uneasy relationship
with time, in the person of clocks.
I couldn’t wake with the sun, or sleep when
it got dark, and my soul was always
out of sorts, and anxious.
But at least everything didn’t happen
all at the same time…

They say time-keeping changed when
railroad people needed to make things work
across vast distances. For commerce.
Speed made organization and precision necessary.
Then factories needed everyone to begin
making things all at the same…. time.
There’s that word again.

I don’t worry as much about clocks any more.
I let the computers keep track for me
and watch time rush past as if
in a hurry to join its siblings in the distant past
where it can get away from clocks.
There it can sink back into the black
cloud of being, where everything has already happened.

I Was A Horse


cropped-the-leap-into-the-unknown.jpgI woke up this morning from a dreamy grey half-sleep
with the February rain dripping off the eaves.
A memory floated by that in a previous life
I was a horse. No question.
A big, brown horse with
soft, knowing eyes. I had been abandoned
out in the high desert by someone,
but didn’t care about them at all.
I knew once how to be free,
and would just do that again. I wondered
about finding water and something to eat,
but horses don’t waste a lot of time worrying.
We’re afraid of things that move,
and afraid of things that don’t.
But we know enough to pick a
direction where it smells more like
water than not, and begin again.

Deadline


c0tazuexcae4r2d

I dreamt of a place, not long ago, and the dream, unusual for me, showed even the most mundane things in vivid, sharp detail. Clothing, clouds, leaves on the ground, birds against the sky, dust motes floating.

But not at first. At first I was in the dark, walking blindly on a long journey through a wood. I only knew that something big was ahead. It was my show. I was expected.

I’m a modern man, raised on science and skepticism. But the longer I’ve lived, my ancient spirit has me lurch against things I cannot understand and I’ve had to make allowances.

Continue reading “Deadline”

Come Out To The Edge


great-escapes-small-wcth23

I may look normal, but I’m not. On the outside, my life looks conventional. But this is the kind of place I live in my head.  It’s a constant battle between doing stuff I’m afraid of and running away. Out on the edge….

“You think I’m insane?” said Finnerty. Apparently he wanted more of a reaction than Paul had given him.
“You’re still in touch. I guess that’s the test.”
“Barely — barely.”
“A psychiatrist could help. There’s a good man in Albany.”
Finnerty shook his head.

“He’d pull me back into the center, and I want to stay as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can’t see from the center.” He nodded, “Big, undreamed-of things — the people on the edge see them first.”

Talismans In The Wind


 

daro-darosyndy
Photo by DARO @darosyndy

We spend our lives
collecting things our kids
will sell in the auction.

In drawers and closets,
in dusty attics with
useless tax returns from 1992
and unused but sentimental
Christmas ornaments.
We store bits of their lives, too:

Talismans. Medicine bags. Memories
Of age 8, of high school.
It is we who can’t let go.
That rock collection,
the medals and ribbons and
papers with grades on them
high on a closet shelf
in a spare bedroom,
where we turn the heat off
in the winter because
no child sleeps there any more.
Talismans of our lives.
Little flames to light
our way for a time,
to remember,
and hold back the darkness.

Vows


c0tazuexcae4r2d

I was 21 when I took the official vows,
but had really taken the important ones
some months earlier. When I proposed
on April Fools Day and she said ‘yes.’
And like two fools,
we thought that was just fine.
Turns out, nearly 50 years later, it was.

But vows are merciless things, and they don’t
tell you the whole story. You can’t listen, anyway,
with your eyes full of hunger for each other’s bodies
and your ears full of music and laughter and dreams.

It’s easy to make promises when you
don’t know all that will be asked of you,
the blood and the bone and the griefs.
You find out the truth bit by bit,
day by day. You find out
where you’re weak and where strong,
and whether you’re someone people
can count on.

But you never learn these things unless
you have solemnly vowed, and keep the promises
made in hope and ignorance.

You learn the lessons that come
only with walking a long road,
until your feet are worn as thin as paper
and the dust of the road is your new skin.
And, if you’re lucky, keeping promises
has, with much practice, become second nature.

I found all this out the hard way,
and not until I listened to a still, small voice
and started writing again.
I was asleep for 50 years, more or less,
but when I awoke, it was
to shorter days and cool nights.
And I wasn’t sure
if I was fully awake or not.

What It Is Not


dance_portrait_photography_alexander_yakovlev_09

Let’s talk “Poetry” for a moment…

I’ve been reading some of yours…

So many lost lusts,
So many ‘why doesn’t he love me’s’
So many sacrifices of dignity,
Conflations of attraction and connection,
So many confusions of sex and love
So many dear diary’s, soulful sobs, self-pity,
So many anguished tears on so many pillows.
So many tearful gazes over the waters,
Like so many before, like your great-great-grandparents,
As though tears alone justify, define poetry.
As though that’s enough.

So many odes to aimlessness,
So much self-indulgence,
So much teenager-like angst,
So many assumptions that
The most common feelings in the
History of the planet… the galaxy, maybe…
Are at all insightful, fresh, helpful.

I’m sorry for your pain.
I am. It’s real.
But you’ll also have more. Lots more.
And you will survive.
Because you’re tougher than you know.
Welcome it. Use it.
Grow from it.

My right leg hurts. Nothing new there.
I need coffee, soulful kisses, and more…so much more….
I’m getting old and that pisses me off.
I’ve loved deeply and lost, have known death,
You will do both, maybe already have.
I’ve held my babies, watched them grow,
I’ve seen mothers lose theirs.
We win and we lose, sometimes more loss than gain.
I’ve been around the track more than once, but in the end
It, writing, boils down to answering this question:
So what?
That’s the question I put to us all.
So fucking what? Everyone has a sad story.
Answer “so what” and make me care. That’s the job. That’s what I want.
That’s the reason for poetry.

I want more than the lazy, the easy;

more than the ordinary,
more than common oatmeal,
(With or without raisins and sprinkles).

I want to know how those oats grew, and where,
What they felt when they were harvested,
I want to know if they screamed, or just magically
Floated into your bowl, mere reflections of your sadness.
I want to see why I should care about your oatmeal.

It isn’t all about you, you see, but about all of us,
And I’d like to know whether you can see beyond–
I want you to show what’s beyond the
Rustling of your jimmies, beyond being sexy,
Beyond, beyond, beyond.

Jesus H.! I want you to stop settling for less.
Less than you can do. Less than you will do.
I want you to get knocked down,

get up, and get to work
Over and over and over.
To show what it meant. Show me the answer: So what?

There’s no time to waste, you know,
Less than you think; no one knows the future.
Youth is wasted on the young,
Which I know now, and pass it along.

Maybe you’ll listen, but if you’re like I was,
You won’t get it and will go on
Thinking the world is here just for you,
Thinking that mere deep feeling is enough.

I have a newsflash from the other side, y’all:
It’s not enough. Not by a country mile.
(And stop rolling your eyes).

I want to feel you turning lead into gold,
I want you to show me– not tell me about– a growing soul,
I want to taste, to see, to feel what you do,
I want you to hunger for something always out of reach
I want you to tap the universal, to move us forward,
I want us all to connect the dots, do the hard work of humanity.

For our own precious humanity,

do the hard work.
do the heavy lifting.
I want you to read the best, then emulate them.
Then be better than them.

Sweat the details, then shine a new light.
Do hard and holy things.

Hard and holy things.
That’s what we signed up for, you know.
Not the ordinary. Fuck the ordinary.

But most of all, right now,
I want coffee.
And depth.
And more.
So much more.

 

 

Hitting the High Notes


the_odeon_of_herodes_atticus

I write younger than I am, but my voice

cracks on the high notes now.

I don’t know how much longer I can fake it.

I wish I had a daughter, who would sit and

listen, and forgive me in the

way only daughters can.

Instead, I sit with my laptop

facing a bank of windows with a

view of a mountain,

snow flurries in the sun.
I’m encountering many me’s, from many times,
in various stages of becoming.
It’s as though I walk into a Greek amphitheater
in Corinth, and my many selves are sitting on the old blocks
of stone, twitching, and I point to one and say
“OK, come on down.Today’s your turn to whine about your life.”
And we all lean in, ready to pounce,
evaluating the honesty, the growth,
knowing that one of us
will be judged next
and found wanting.

The First


The leap into the unknown
It was in the fall of seventh grade.
A bunch of us piled into a friend’s car.
I remember lots of laughing, goofing around.
Nearly new teenagers filled with the thrill of being alive.
A girl with jet-black hair I’d known since first grade squeezed in
Next to me and the entire length of her thigh
pressed into mine by the crush of bodies in the back seat.
I fell in love for the first time.
Just like that.

We never dated, and it wasn’t long before my
family moved overseas and our paths never crossed again. .

Continue reading “The First”

Things Before The New Year 2


Ah. What to make of the coming year? War, pestilence, famine, chaos, Donald Trump, uncertainty.

But it’s not all gloom and doom, either. A macabre old joke has it that at a certain age, any day you wake up on the top side of the dirt is a good one. Or, when someone asks how you are, you are supposed to wink and say, slyly, “Well, considering the alternative, I’m great!”

Too dark? I’m sorry. That’s not my intent and I really don’t think this way very often. But keeping it real is the real point of doing these little exercises. It keeps one focused. Pauper or king, the final destination is the same, and there’s the end of it. If you are young, you probably don’t think this way, nor should you. There’s plenty of time. Just make each day count and the final amount will be taken care of.

So why worry? We can’t see the future anyway. Hope for the best, plan for the worst. Prepare for what you can.

Feel free to ignore these: Don’t take easy paths, or indulge in cheap diversions. You’ll just end up growing donkey ears. Hone your inner steel and crave the edge, but also keep your heart open, childlike and reachable. Find things that matter, find your passion, don’t mope when things go wrong (and they will) but get up and live each day out loud.

It’s simple, really. It just takes all you have, and that’s the joy of it. 🙂

That’s a way to live, and considering the alternatives, it’s not too bad. Let the pale, creeping dampness of depression, doubt and insecurity go down the drain with the next shower. Any day can be a turning point. As Picard would say, “make it so.”

Show the way to others, love deeply and truely and never miss an opportunity to be kind.

And In A Mystery To Be


ee cummings
ee cummings

 

by ee cummings

in time of daffodils (who know
the goal of living is to grow)
forgetting why, remember how

in time of lilacs who proclaim
the aim of waking is to dream,
remember so (forgetting seem)

in time of roses (who amaze
our now and here with paradise)
forgetting if, remember yes

in time of all sweet things beyond
whatever mind may comprehend,
remember seek (forgetting find)

and in a mystery to be
(when time from time shall set us free)
forgetting me, remember me.

e.e. cummings

Dreams


tiantanbuddha

 

I dreamt once I traveled to the little village
in Ohio where I was born, this time.
Everyone was glad to see me, and I them.
I went from house to house and visited people
who had been dead for 50 years. I was a happy 85,
and realized I could only see them because I must be dead, too.
It dawned on me just before I woke that I had been given
a glimpse of something and I should pay attention,
that my span of years on this earth this time is to be
eight and one-half decades, no more, no less.
And it made me smile. I could live with that.

I also dreamt once of a place very distant in years and geography,
and surprised to see I was a young girl
just at the threshold of adulthood, bare-breasted,
racing many others through an Indian jungle.
And I realized when I awoke that
I had been given a glimpse of something
I should pay attention to, so I wrote it down.

But in the dream I ran and ran, heart thrilling to the race.
I ran until I came to a plateau, trees stretching high above,
and there was a massive statue of the Buddha looming.
I lay a hand on the ancient, cool, damp, moss-covered base as I passed, and
felt an energy flowing through it, slow and deep and with the ache of eternity.
A strange monk sat with me later, while I ate a bowl of rice, and told me
the only things that mattered in life were effort and simplicity.

Then there was another dream
of a life I’d lived in the 1890s as a sod-buster on the
Nebraska prairie. Fought the land and the weather,
had children, buried some there,
and it came to me that my bones still lie in the
black earth, deep under the grasses on a little rise
above where my earthen home once stood, but of which
there is no longer any trace, except in
that one, fleeting dream, like most of us.

Then last night I dreamt I was in Montana,
in the middle of a group of men arguing about
whether to drill for oil in a particular spot.
On one hand were serious dangers, on the other vast wealth,
the two main things, other than a woman, that men will kill for.
I remember feeling in a moment of absolute clarity
That I had the perfect solution, and knew it
would prevent the bloodshed that was coming.
But I woke up, breathing hard, unable to go back.
I wonder if I could have made a difference?

These messages seemed different than the
run-of-the-mill dances of the mind in sleep.
These carried some sense of import and meaning.
So after each I lay staring at the ceiling
as dawn slowly restores the room to sight,
and I ponder them and try to pay attention.

Life in Our Bubbles


soap bubble
Turbulent and temporary

Bubbles in the bathtub, bubbles in the news,
Bubbles blown from fantasies, others made of blues.

The farmer’s bubble in the field
The bubble of the boy, forgotten
by the girl he can’t forget.
The doctor’s hero bubble that pays for that Corvette.
The bubble of the  longhaul trucker, and
The Mercedes, passing, teasing with a flash of thigh.

The angry white guy’s bubble,
And the angry black guy’s too.
The bubble of a poor girl who wonders which must do.

And over at the Pentagon:
the soldier’s bubble marches, the sailor’s, the Marine’s.
The small-town bubbles of porches and shady streets,
And bubbling battles brewing over things like flu vaccines.
The tribal identity bubbles fought with high school games.
Bubbles of teenagers sleeping rough in the park,
A generation on mental benches, living in the dark.

The city’s bubble, the country’s, the village’s and the farm’s.
Gender’s bubbles mix it up: the myths, desires, the charms
Being sexy’s another bubble, yet you’re never quite sure you are.

The bubble of the man-boys, costumed in beards and plaid,
The laughing girl-herd bubble, strategically underclad.
Pastors in pulpits, Bible bubbles fired into the air,
Sinners in their secret guilt just recite the old Lord’s Prayer.

And all the rich folk’s bubbles… where should I begin?
They keep their teeth past old age,
With gold-plated dental plans.
Then  new cars every year, parked in heated garages.
And vacation cruises in the islands, on floating casino barages.
They hire pricey doctors who lounge in those Corvettes,
And look in every mirror for new bulges in silhouettes.

Of course, all are in the bigger bubble, the one we call delusion,
Which only brings on worser woes, and more confused conclusions.
So look ye to the birds above, who neither reap nor sow,
Who– nearly as any ear can tell–
Choose song and freedom,
not a fake and freakish game show.

Deep Time At Mohenjo-daro


This site in Sindh, Pakistan is one of the earliest major urban settlements, with signs of both city planning, social organization and a draining system. An estimated 40,000 people lived in the area.
This is the site in Sindh, Pakistan of Mohenjo-daro, one of the earliest major urban settlements, with signs of both city planning, social organization and a draining system. An estimated 40,000 people lived in the area.

Once, long ago, I stood over the bones of a man
Who had died at the gate of an ancient city,
An arrow through his throat.

He slept through the ages in charcoal and rubble,
The world above spun round through centuries, but he was
Oblivious to all such petty things,
His city burned and
fallen on his unmarked grave,
Then itself buried and forgotten.  

A jewel of the Bronze Age,
Thriving in the time of Khufu of Egypt,
This city would rise and
Be destroyed again, five times,
Until it was buried a final time,
At the time Crusaders died
At Jerusalem’s gates. Continue reading “Deep Time At Mohenjo-daro”

Tomorrow


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by Jim Harrison

I’m hoping to be astonished tomorrow
by I don’t know what:
not the usual undiscovered bird in the cold
snowy willows, garishly green and yellow,
and not my usual death, which I’ve done
before with Borodin’s music
used in Kismet, and angels singing
“Stranger in Paradise,” that sort of thing,
and not the thousand naked women
running a marathon in circles around me
while I swivel on a writerly chair
keeping an eye on my favorites.
What could it be, this astonishment,
but falling into a liquid mirror
to finally understand that the purpose
of earth is earth? It’s plain as night.
She’s willing to sleep with us a little while.

[from IN SEARCH OF SMALL GODS, Copper Canyon Press, 2010, $16, pb. ]

Our Shadow Selves


A look at our own darkness is required
A look at our own darkness is required for true growth. But remember the way back, that darkness is not where we are most at home.”

“People will do anything,
no matter how absurd,
to avoid facing their own souls.”
–Carl Jung

Depth

Maybe It Is Time


aurora-canero_-sculptures-13
Sculpture by Aurora Canero

Maybe it is time to forgive God
For the hundreds of women
who have rejected me over the years,
Starting in third grade,
(theoretically, of course, 
whether they knew it or not.
And for the one or two who 
didn’t, but should have).

I’ve reached the point in life
too late where I
Would actually be of some
use to them,

Could gently walk forward with them without harm,
And be remembered, I trust, with generosity and a little fondness.
But I have reached the age
of their fathers,
And so, instead, have become,
regrettably, invisible.

And over there on the coasts, maybe it’s time to give hip irony the
last rites and heave-ho,
And just admit that it is as
empty and useless as
Yet another beer or Viagra
marketing campaign.

Continue reading “Maybe It Is Time”

A Parable


just-a-pinch-buddah-perfect-timingBuddha told a parable in sutra:

A man traveling across a field encountered a tiger. He fled, the tiger after him. Coming to a precipice, he caught hold of the root of a wild vine and swung himself down over the edge. The tiger sniffed at him from above. Trembling, the man looked down to where, far below, another tiger was waiting to eat him. Only the vine sustained him.

Two mice, one white and one black, little by little started to gnaw away the vine. The man saw a luscious strawberry near him. Grasping the vine with one hand, he plucked the strawberry with the other. How sweet it tasted!

Letter To A Young Friend


Photo by Kubra Zakir
Photo by Kubra Zakir

A new day rises for you, daughter,
Pushing the darkness and the mists of childhood away.
Many have stood on this same shore, you know, but
This hour is wholly fresh, is yours entire,
Awesome and terrifying.
Thrilling. Dangerous. Engaging.
Overwhelming.
“Am I up to it?” You wonder…

But, I’ll let you in on a secret:
Continue reading “Letter To A Young Friend”

I Stopped To Listen


 

feature-e1431163430985
Leonhard Cohen

I stopped to listen, but he did not come. I begain again with a sense of loss. As this sense deepened I heard him again. I stopped stopping and I stopped starting, and I allowed myself to be crushed by ignorance. This was a strategy, and didn’t work at all. Much time, years were wasted in such a minor mode. I bargain now. I offer buttons for his love. I beg for mercy. Slowly he yields. Haltingly he moves toward his throne. Reluctantly the angels grant to one another permission to sing. In a transition so delicate it cannot be marked, the court is established on beams of golden symmetry, and once again I am a singer in the lower choirs, born fifty years ago to raise my voice this high, and no higher.

–Leonard Cohen
Poem 1 (“I stopped to listen, but he did not come …”) from “Book of Mercy”

Everybody Knows


Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows that the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That’s how it goes
Everybody knows
Everybody knows that the boat is leaking
Everybody knows that the captain lied
Everybody got this broken feeling
Like their father or their dog just died

Everybody talking to their pockets
Everybody wants a box of chocolates
And a long stem rose
Everybody knows

Continue reading “Everybody Knows”

A Street


I used to be your favorite drunk
Good for one more laugh
Then we both ran out of luck
Luck was all we ever had
You put on a uniform
To fight the Civil War
You looked so good I didn’t care
What side you’re fighting for

It wasn’t all that easy
When you up and walked away
But I’ll save that little story
For another rainy day
I know the burden’s heavy
As you wheel it through the night
Some people say it’s empty
But that don’t mean it’s light

You left me with the dishes
And a baby in the bath
You’re tight with the militias
You wear their camouflage
You always said we’re equal
So let me march with you
Just an extra in the sequel
To the old red white and blue

Baby don’t ignore me
We were smokers we were friends
Forget that tired story
Of betrayal and revenge
I see the Ghost of Culture
With numbers on his wrist
Salute some new conclusion
Which all of us have missed

I cried for you this morning
And I’ll cry for you again
But I’m not in charge of sorrow
So please don’t ask me when
There may be wine and roses
And magnums of champagne
But we’ll never no we’ll never
Ever be that drunk again

The party’s over
But I’ve landed on my feet
I’ll be standing on this corner
Where there used to be a street

–Leonard Cohen

Where There is Hope



Everywhere, “People wish to be settled,”
 Ralph Waldo Emerson reminded us, “but only insofar as we are unsettled is there any hope for us.”

I’ve been a full-time writer now for 34 years. And the one thing that I have learned is that transformation comes when I’m not in charge, when I don’t know what’s coming next, when I can’t assume I am bigger than everything around me. And the same is true in love or in moments of crisis. Suddenly, we’re back in that trishaw again and we’re bumping off the broad, well-lit streets; and we’re reminded, really, of the first law of travel and, therefore, of life: you’re only as strong as your readiness to surrender.

–Pico Iyer

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